Religious Traditions and the Bible
“YOU make the word of God invalid by your tradition.” These were the words of no one else but Jesus Christ. (Mark 7:13) Like many people today, the Jews in Jesus’ day faithfully adhered to a complicated pattern of precepts and customs. And like many of today’s clergymen, their religious leaders viewed these traditions as more important than the Bible.
To illustrate: God’s Word specifically commanded that children honor their parents. (Exodus 20:12) This obviously included assisting parents who fell into dire financial straits. However, a Jewish tradition developed that provided a convenient way to evade this Biblical obligation. A selfish individual merely had to pledge that his personal property was later to be donated to the temple, setting the property aside by declaring it “corban.” This word meant “a gift dedicated to God.” Although the Jewish worshiper was evidently free to continue to use this corban for his own personal gain, he could piously deny it to his parents.—Mark 7:9-12.
Jesus, though, challenged this and other Jewish ‘sacred traditions,’ saying: “You hypocrites, Isaiah aptly prophesied about you, when he said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, yet their heart is far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep worshiping me, because they teach commands of men as doctrines.’”—Matthew 15:3-9.
In view of what Jesus said, can a Christian really regard any religious tradition as being on a par with the Bible? Hardly. No matter how much sentiment or emotion may be tied up with a custom, a Christian’s concern is whether it harmonizes with God’s Word or not. As a case in point, consider some traditional religious acts described in the Catholic book Liturgy—An Elementary Course, by María A. Lombillo Clark, T.D. How do these traditions compare with what the Bible actually says?
LITURGY GOD’S WORD
“We manifest our worship to God “Little children, guard yourselves
through religious acts.” from idols.”—1 John 5:21.
“God is a Spirit, and those
worshiping him must worship
with spirit and truth.”—John 4:24.
“We are walking by faith, not
by sight.”—2 Corinthians 5:7.
“I am Jehovah. That is my name;
and to no one else shall I give
my own glory, neither my praise
to graven images.”—Isaiah 42:8.
“We should render religious “You must not make for yourself
acts to the Most Holy Virgin a carved image or a form like
Mary, to the angels, and to anything that is in the heavens
the saints. But [such] above or that is on the earth
religious acts of veneration . . . You must not bow down to
. . . finally come to God, in them nor be induced to serve
the same way that a king is them.”—Exodus 20:4, 5.
honored when honor is given to “I John . . . fell down to
his ministers.” worship before the feet of the
angel . . . But he tells me: ‘Be
careful! Do not do that! . . .
“There is one God, and one
mediator between God and men,
a man, Christ Jesus.”
“The Crucifix is indispensable “The God that made the world and
on the altar; without this the all the things in it, being, as
Holy Mass cannot be celebrated. this One is, Lord of heaven and
Three altar cloths, two earth, does not dwell in handmade
candelabra, and the sacramental temples.”—Acts 17:24.
tablets are also necessary.” “We keep our eyes, not on the
things seen, but on the things
unseen.”—2 Corinthians 4:18.
“November 1 . . . the “The dead themselves do not
celebration of All Saints Day. praise Jah, nor do any going down
It is the Holy Day of all the into silence.”—Psalm 115:17.
souls that live happily in “The dead know nothing.”
heaven, and that one day will —Ecclesiastes 9:5, Revised
be ours.” Standard Version Common Bible.
“Every soul which will not hear
that prophet shall be
destroyed.”—Acts 3:23, Douay
“In aid of these souls [the “Neither work, nor reason, nor
Church] established the wisdom, nor knowledge, shall be
‘Commemoration of the faithful in hell, whither thou art
deceased’ on November 2nd. On hastening.”—Ecclesiastes 9:10,
this day the priests celebrate Douay Version.
the Mass three times to relieve “Put not your trust in [man;]
the torments of these blessed . . . he shall return into his
souls of purgatory and to earth: in that day all their
hasten their entrance into thoughts shall perish.”
heaven.” —Psalm 145:2-4, Douay Version.
“In the final analysis, the
Catholic doctrine on purgatory
is based on tradition, not
Sacred Scripture.”—New Catholic
Encyclopedia, Volume 11,
Freed From Harmful Traditions
Many popular religious traditions are therefore not pleasing to God and thus are harmful. Interestingly, though, the apostle Paul wrote: “Now I commend you because in all things . . . you are holding fast the traditions just as I handed them on to you.” (1 Corinthians 11:2) These traditions, however, were wholesome, beneficial practices based on God’s Word—not empty, man-made rituals. They replaced the “fruitless form of conduct received by tradition” that many in the first century practiced before becoming Christians.—1 Peter 1:18.
Likewise today, a God-fearing person must scrutinize and reject any tradition that proves unscriptural. Surely, one’s relationship with God is of far more value than any man-made forms of worship! Of course, rejecting unscriptural traditions is by no means easy. It often requires adjusting long-established patterns of conduct. One young man in Colombia, for example, was steeped in religious tradition. From childhood he had a burning desire to be a Catholic priest. He would often play at ‘saying Mass’ with his sisters, even receiving “confessions” from them. Years later he gained entrance to a preseminary school, eventually enrolling in a Catholic university. There, religious traditions were embedded yet deeper in his life.
One day, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses visited his home. While his parents would hardly allow the Witness to express himself, the little that was said impressed this religiously minded youth. Later he arranged to study the Bible secretly with this Witness. “My genuine desire,” he recalls, “was to get to know the Bible from a different point of view without changing my religion. I had an intense desire to serve God as a priest, to try to effect changes in people’s hearts. After studying the Bible for a month, a conflict arose within me, inasmuch as the traditions and rites of my religion fought against the pure standards of the Scriptures.”
His family pressured him to desist from studying the Bible, and finally he was forced to leave home. Nevertheless, he says: “After two months of studying the Bible, I became convinced that I was in great error, and I left the university and my work as a teacher in a religious college and devoted myself to preaching from house to house. Now my life has changed and also my customs. I felt especially happy that unforgettable day that I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by baptism.” This young man now serves full-time in helping others free themselves from God-dishonoring traditions.
If you are a fervent devotee of religious tradition, you may also find it necessary to make some changes. Recall again what Jesus once said to the Samaritan woman at the well. She and her people had the time-honored custom of worshiping God on Mount Gerizim. Jesus, however, showed her that this was a worthless tradition, saying: “Believe me, woman, The hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you people worship the Father. . . . The true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him.”—John 4:19-23.
Are you one that “the Father is looking for”? Do you have a burning desire to worship God in truth? Then the apostle Paul’s warning at Colossians 2:8 is most appropriate: “Take care not to let anyone cheat you with his philosophizings, with empty phantasies drawn from human tradition.” (The Holy Bible, Ronald A. Knox) Follow, instead, the teachings of true Christianity, which can lead you to everlasting life!—John 17:3.